John McCain: Ted Kennedy Was 'a Happy Warrior'

Colleague and friend says Kennedy's "word was his bond."

Aug. 27, 2009 — -- Sen. John McCain, who knew Ted Kennedy for more than a quarter-century, said he will remember his friend and colleague as "a happy warrior" on the Senate floor.

"Many times there was no need for the microphone system, we all heard him very clearly," McCain said on "Good Morning America" today.

Kennedy died late Tuesday from brain cancer at the age of 77. He will be buried Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery.

"A great part of the legacy of Ted Kennedy is his passionate advocacy," McCain said. "Whether he won or lost, he was always in the game."

Once a debate had ended, McCain said, Kennedy "returned to the gregarious and friendly individual that he was."

Kennedy was famous in the Senate for being one of the nation's most effective lawmakers, regularly reaching across party lines to get legislation passed. Many of his dearest colleagues were Republicans, and McCain said, "Ted Kennedy's word was his bond."

"One of his great strengths was passion on the floor, debate in the most committed way," McCain said. "Not only the congeniality, but also the readiness to go fight the next battle and form alliances to try to succeed on that one."

McCain said that he hoped Kennedy's commitment to health care throughout his career and his example of compromise and reaching across the aisle would inform the current health care overhaul debate.

"Obviously, if there is health care reform, Ted Kennedy has a long history of being involved in this issue in a variety of ways," he said. "I would hope his example of working together and coming together in the spirit of compromise for the sake and good of the American people would have some effect.

"If there is agreement, he should be given credit for it," he added.

When asked if he had a personal obligation to see health care legislation passed in memory of Kennedy, McCain said, "I feel a personal responsibility to try to conduct myself in many respects the way that Ted Kennedy did on a broad variety of issues, and that is to be willing to sit down and work with the other side of the aisle to try to come up with agreement and compromise."

During their long Senate career together, McCain said, he and Kennedy had a personal relationship full of jest and jokes "in the spirit of friendship."

"Ted imitated me quite well, I must say," he said, laughing. "Sometimes he would imitate some of my less than circumspect language.

"He was fairly easy to mimic," he added.

McCain said after he lost the 2008 presidential race to Barack Obama, Kennedy told me he "thought that I had fought an honorable campaign."

Kennedy, who lost his own bid for the presidency in 1980, also told McCain "he knew what I had been through," the Arizona Republican said.

"I remember very well when he really had his last shot at the presidency," McCain said. "I think that was a turning point also in his Senate career."

McCain noted that after Kennedy lost the presidential race, he committed himself to his Senate career and the issues that faced his state and those he was passionate about, compiling an incredibly impressive record.

After fighting so many battles on the Senate floor, McCain said he was impressed and moved by Kennedy's last fight -- his battle against cancer.

"We embraced on several occasions" in the past year, he said. "I was impressed, obviously, as we all were, by his indomitable spirit. I never saw a frown on his face as his health deteriorated.

"He never gave up ... he showed extreme optimism and that's the nature of the man."

McCain will give a speech at Friday's memorial service but, he said, he didn't know yet what he would say.

"I've been thinking about it constantly ever since Vicki Kennedy called me," he said. "I just hope I can do him justice, or some measure of justice."